An annual campaign of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Cervical Screening Awareness Week is taking place from 15-21 June 2021. The aim of the campaign is to promote and increase understanding of cervical screening, which can be life-saving through the early detection of cervical cancer.
Commonly known as the ‘smear test’, cervical screening can pick up changes to the cells in the cervix which if left untreated could develop into cervical cancer. All women aged 25 to 64 in Scotland are invited through the NHS for free cervical screening every five years, but not everyone takes up the invitation. Women on non-routine screening (where screening results have shown changes that require further investigation/follow up) are invited up to the age of 70.
Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45. Mary McNeil, Development Manager of Cornerstone House Centre, commented:
“There are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases in the UK every year, which equates to around nine every day. Cervical cancer accounts for 2% of all new cancer cases in females in the country.
“It is, however, a preventable form of cancer and with your help, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub wants to help ensure that every woman in Cumbernauld knows that cyclical cervical screening can reduce their risk of the disease.
“Your GP will be able to advise if you are due for a cervical screening. Missing cervical screening appointments can increase your risk of cervical cancer.
“Remember, early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment and full recovery. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant for cervical cancer.
“That’s why it’s so important not to ignore symptoms or preventative measures. Indeed, going for cervical screening when invited is absolutely the best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer.”
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that can be passed on through any type of sexual contact with a man or a woman.
There are more than 100 types of HPV, many of which are harmless. But some types can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer. Two strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, are known to be responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. They do not have any symptoms, so women will not realise they have it.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A SMEAR TEST
Before you’ve experienced a smear test, it can be pretty daunting. While everyone might tell you it’s the easiest thing in the world – which isn’t always true – it doesn’t mean you’ll miraculously feel great about going for one.
It’s important to recognise that some people have reasons to find smears difficult that others may not experience, such as being a survivor of sexual violence, being a trans-man or non binary person with a cervix, cultural barriers or certain health conditions.
Be assured that it totally normal to be nervous about it, and you’re not alone if you feel that way. Understandably, you might feel better knowing what to expect, so you could ask a friend or family member what it was like for them, or speak to your nurse or doctor.
Discussing with your practitioner how the entrance exam is going to be held is a smart move to know what to expect. It’s also important to trust your smear technician, and if you get bad vibes, know it is well within your rights to request a different person to do it.
It’s also worth noting that changing the traditional position of your smear can be asked of almost anyone with a cervix. If you have a tilted cervix, for example, you may be asked to adopt the fisting position (not that kind). There are also other positions, such as the lateral position, that you can request for your own comfort.
The more relaxed you are, the easier things tend to be in a smear test. For those with conditions like vaginismus, that might be easier said than done, but there is support available for those who experience any kind of vulval pain. If you’re feeling nervous, distraction can be a good tonic, so you might want to bring some headphones or practice some breathing exercises during the examination.
For many women, it can be normal to experience some vaginal blood after the smear test. Hence, it can be a good idea to bring along a panty liner to your appointment just in case.
Cervical screening results are usually delivered by mail. The nurse or doctor who does your cervical screening will tell you when you can expect your results letter. It can take a few weeks to receive the results letter, so remember that this is perfectly normal.
During Cervical Screening Awareness Week, a Scotland-specific campaign will be launched which will highlight the importance of cervical screening, with a specific focus on HPV testing and HPV. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has also developed a toolkit for professionals to use during the Week and beyond. This and other resources are accessible by clicking here.
Further information on cervical screening can be read by clicking here. More about cervical cancer and how to prevent it can be sourced by visiting www.jostrust.org.uk, whilst advice and information is also available by contacting Jo Cervical Cancer Trust’s free helpline on 0808 802 8000.